OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

A reflective blog exploring recycling & sustainability initiatives at the Overseas School of Colombo

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Learning from Meethotamulla

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Meethotamulla dump site after the landslide and tragedy. Image courtesy of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

A week ago disaster and tragedy struck Colombo’s Meethotamulla garbage dump. The images and stories depict a heartbreaking chronicle of poor management, environmental neglect and human misery. Thus far, the press has been busy pointing fingers at various government agencies and political parties for blame of the disaster. The more difficult truth is that all of us are culpable in the problem that led to the disaster at Meethotamulla. The root problem is our high-consumption lifestyle and the solid waste that it generates. The amount of waste is significant but it is largely out of sight to most of us. Meethotamulla has provided a painful wakeup call. There are now efforts underway in our community to assist families affected by the collapse of the garbage dump. These are important initiatives but the tragedy provides a broader teachable moment where each one of us can do something to address the root problem that led to the landslide.

All of us are consumers and our waste, whether at home or at work, is collected and has been added to the mountain of rubbish at Meethotamulla. To get a sense for our school’s waste generation walk up the gym approach road and note the smell and sometimes overflowing numbers of black garbage bags. We send an average of two wagon load of solid waste off campus every week. I suggest that an appropriate response to the tragedy is to look for ways that we can reduce the amount of solid waste that we produce at school and at home. In the following section I include some suggestions that are based on personal experience and experiments to reduce my own ecological footprint at school and at home.

Reducing Solid Waste at School

  • At OSC we have had an ongoing campaign get the canteen to use washable plates and silverware. The initiative started with the Recycling & Sustainability (Train to Sustain) service group but was taken up by Reefkeepers and eventually the Canteen Committee. The initiative took several years of active lobbying but the changeover in December 2016 has made a difference in reducing solid waste. There is still, however, work to be done. The canteen is still selling juice in disposable cups with plastic lids and straws. We need to move on eliminating all the plastics and using washable cups.
  • Thus far, we are not composting any kitchen or garden waste produced by OSC.  In 2015 a Grade 5 class exhibition group  investigated the idea of using a biodigester to deal with kitchen and garden waste. The R&S group agreed to fund it with money from recycled paper sales but that proposal has not been given sanction from the school.
  • Waste separation is an area that each one of us on campus can do a better job with. The feedback from the maintenance crew is that the OSC community is not separating items in the three categories of bins. This makes it hard for the garbage collectors to separate, recycle and thus reduce the amount going to the landfill.

Reducing Solid Waste at Home

  • Follow the three Rs (Reduce Reuse Recycle). Reduce what you consume and make every effort to not take or buy disposable items like plastic bags.
  • When you shop, use reusable shopping bags. There are even reusable mesh bags for vegetables that have been pioneered in our community by Rachel Jackson, Clover Hicks and Raina Lockwood. Reefkeepers will be selling these shortly. These efforts reduce the amount of single use plastic that you take home. Check out Rice and Carry’s innovative ways of reusing rice bags to help reduce disposable shopping bags.
  • Separate your waste at home. This is probably the single best thing that you can do. Wet waste from the kitchen can be composted. A study that I did of my home suggests that roughly 50% or more of household waste is wet waste and mostly compostable. Household composting is a viable option for most of us with gardens and, if managed correctly, will lead to reduction in solid waste and smelly garbage bags.
  • We have the facility to recycle cardboard and paper and PET plastic here at school and you are welcome to bring in items to us. We ask that any plastic bottles are cleaned. For parents and teachers, the R&S group can provide guidance on where to go to sell your paper and cardboard if you have large volumes. This waste actually pays and the R&S groups has built up a capital fund thanks to paper and cardboard sales over the past 12 years.
  • We collect hazardous and E-waste items such as batteries and printer cartridges. We are working with Dialog to give these items to them or recycling. The Orange lighting company takes back CFLs bulbs. Thus don’t mix these into regular garbage bags.

Meethotamulla was an unnecessary human-made tragedy but we can learn from the experience and do a better job so that we do not contribute to a future solid waste disaster.

 

FURTHER LINKS

Bresnick, Sam.  “Lessons from the World.” Daily News. 18 April 2017. Web.

Kotelawala, Himal. “Sri Lanka Death Toll Rises in Garbage Dump Collapse.” New York Times. 17 April 2017.   Web.

“Meethotamulla tragedy.” Daily Mirror. 18 April 2017.  Web.

Wipulasena, Aanya. “Authorities’ promises stink as much as garbage mountain.” Daily Mirror. 6 July  2014.  Web.

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Written by recycling1011

2017-04-20 at 3:04 PM